COOPERSTOWN – In light of Governor Cuomo’s decision to postpone Wednesday’s village elections statewide due , the Cooperstown candidates have said they are pulling up their lawn signs for the time being.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is unopposed. MacGuire Benton, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns are competing for two Village Board seats.
The terms of Benton and Membrino, the two incumbents, expire April 1; but Tillapaugh said that, due to the governor’s State of Emergency, they will continue to serve until the next election.
Governor Cuomo early this evening delayed all village elections in New York State until April 28, the same day as the statewide Democratic Presidential Primary.
“Delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system,” Cuomo said.
Many such races are uncontested, but in the Village of Cooperstown, three candidates – MacGuire Benson, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns – were vying to fill two seats this Wednesday, March 18.
COOPERSTOWN – Village trustee candidate MacGuire Benton announced a few minutes ago he is suspending door-to-door campaigning because of concerns about coronavirus.
“It’s an unfortunate and difficult decision to make, as I am committed to knocking on every door and talking to as many voters as possible,” he said. “But it’s the right things to do during this COVID-19 crisis.”
Meanwhile, candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns said this morning she has contacted the NYS Clean campaign to see if hand-sanitizer refill stations can be set up in Cooperstown during the National Emergency.
Interviewing the three candidates, it was quickly clear: Three exceptional people – and exceptional in different ways – are running for Cooperstown Village Board.
Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns is a trained and organized pharmacist, a wife and mother, and someone with an inspiring personal story: enduring misdiagnosed Lyme disease and emerging victorious from a heart transplant.
Joe Membrino is a semi-retired D.C. lawyer with a specialty in Indian affairs, who is still working on behalf of the Oneida Nation. He’s experienced, steady and inspired by the sense of stewardship he’s found in village government. Great qualifications and temperament.
MacGuire “Mac” Benton, 22, is the youngest trustee in village history, already field-tested as a campaign organizer for a Congressional and a state Senate campaign. He’s smart, he wants the job and he’s endearing. His election is “the greatest honor of my young life.”
Cooperstown is lucky. Unfortunately, all three can’t be elected to the two vacant seats.
Robbins’ pledge to refocus on what her constituents want – hallelujah! – makes her election essential, given the repeated citizen outcries of the past year. It’s time for the Village Board to change course.
In only a year, Membrino – Mayor Tillapaugh quickly elevated him to Finance Committee chair – is playing a critical role as guardian of the village’s financial health. And it’s in extremely good health, he can show.
March 18, vote Robbins and Membrino. If defeated, be assured, Mac Benton will be – and should be – back.
COOPERSTOWN – It was the bluntest opinion of this evening, on what to do about the former CVS at 100 Main St., the downtown centerpiece now vacant for three years.
“They never should have allowed CVS to leave Main Street,” declared village trustee candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns in response to a question from Jay Bosley, a Hartwick resident who owns property in the village.
The venue was a League of Women Voters’ issue-focused debate in the Village Board meeting room, where Republican challenger Robbins faced two incumbents, Democratic trustees MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino. League co-president Liane Hirabayashi moderated.
Voting is noon-9 p.m Wednesday, March 18, at the fire hall.
COOPERSTOWN – Trustee MacGuire Benton, who is running for reelection to the Village Board in the March 18 election, today endorse Joe Biden for president.
This election is about defeating Donald Trump, keeping a Democratic House majority, winning back the U.S. Senate and defending the Supreme Court from a complete takeover,” said Benton. “If we can’t do that, we’re sunk.”
Through political action, “you can change people lives,” the Democratic trustee said in an interview. He is seeking his first full term on the Village Board in the March 18 elections.
In November 2016, Benton and friend Bobby Walker – Mac then headed the county’s Young Democrats; Bobby, the Young Republicans – circulated a petition supporting Laurie Pestar, an elementary school secretary seeking an unpaid leave while she fought cancer.
“In the end,” Benton said, “she had great union representation, and the right things happened.”
At 22, Benton is already a seasoned political activist. He worked for Brian Flynn, who ran in the 2018 Democratic primary eventually won by Congressman Antonio Delgado. He then worked for Jen Metzger, an Ulster County Democrat who won an upset victory for state Senate.
He oversaw 2,500 volunteers. “Organizing these people and seeing their passion was just extraordinary,” he said. Leading up to a nail-biting finale, “I slept six hours in four days,” finally crashing election day in the back room at Metzger’s headquarters.
Election night, no one knew where things were going. At mid-evening, news came that Democratic Florida Gov. Bill Nelson had been defeated, a bad omen. By 12:30 a.m., though, Metzer was 3,000 votes ahead.
“And then … Jen won,” he said. “It was a very great night.”
Since entering politics, the young organizer had put 22,000 miles on his car. He came home, and was soon appointed Democratic assistant county elections commissioner, reporting to Mike Henrici.
Benton MacGuire is adopted. Born in Los Angeles, his Cooperstown parents, Mark and Marianne, who was a friend of his mother, flew in within five hours and brought him home.
“For all intents and purposes,” he said, “I am a native of Cooperstown, “without the privilege of being born at Bassett.
Now retired, his dad had opened Bassett’s eye-care center on T2, and worked there his whole career. A beautician, his mom operated Cutting Corner, but – a sympathetic person – often had people asking her for personal advice.
Benton’s first memory was picking up the front page of the paper on Nov. 5, 2008, and seeing Barack Obama had been elected president. “It was amazing; it was moving,” he said.
His parents had never voted for a Democrat in their lives, but they voted for Obama, the son said. Today, “they’re proud registered Democrats.”
Early last year, he ran into Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch at the Price Chopper, and she recruited him to fill a one-year vacancy. His election “was the greatest honor of my young life.”
In his first year, there have been controversies over an apartment complex, flashing streetlights, the
Pride Flag, the Bassett parking lot, and opening up zoning for multi-family housing. But Benton said,
“I don’t think it’s been tumultuous. I think the public is engaging.”
He’d like to see Village Hall more pro-business, and pro-housing. His parents bought the family home at Beaver and Delaware for $36,000 when she was 18, and he was 21. That couldn’t happen today, he said.
COOPERSTOWN – Village trustee candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns today said she will be able to attend the League of Women Voters’ debate at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Village Board’s meeting room at 22 Main.
A Republican, she will join the two Democratic candidates, Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton, sitting trustees who are running for their first full three-year terms.
Robbins, whose first anniversary of a heart transplant was March 3, thought a first-year surgical procedure might prevent her from attending, but she’s been able to work her schedule to allow her to debate.
COOPERSTOWN – Joining Republican Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns, the three Democratic incumbents for Village Board filed for independent lines on the March 18 ballot by the 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday evening.
In addition to having her name on the Democratic ballot line, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch will appear on the “Village United” line. Trustee Joe Membrino’s line is “Liberty Party,” and Trustee MacGuire Benton’s, “Many Voices, One Village.”
COOPERSTOWN – By acclamation, the Democrats caucused a few minutes ago and nominated the three incumbents – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Trustees Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton — to run for reelection in the March 18 village elections.
“It’s not a given that productive government continues,” former mayor Jeff Katz said in nominating his successor for her second term. Patty MacLeish seconded the nomination.
Lynn Mebust chaired the caucus, with Ann Brown as secretary.
COOPERSTOWN – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh says she’s running for a second term in next March’s village election, adding that first-term Trustee MacGuire Benton is likely to as well.
And Joe Membrino, also in his first term, said he’s planning to run again, too.
But for the first time since the GOP debacle in 2011, the Republican Party may be running a slate as well, which would be the first challenge for Democrats who have control all trustee seats for almost a decade.
“Prior to the November election, we put the wheels I motion to start looking for candidates,” Republican County Chairman Vince Casale, who lives in Cooperstown, said Tuesday Nov. 12. “We’ve seen quite a bit of interest already.”
In the few years prior to 2011, Village Board election were highly contested, with Republicans and Democrats fielding full slates.
That year, however, Republican Mayor Joe Booan revealed in February he had opened conversations with county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., about turning over in-village policing to Devlin’s deputies.
The reaction brought Democrats Ellen Tillapaugh and Walter Franck onto the board, and reelected incumbent trustee Jeff Katz.
Booan spent a year struggling with a new Democratic majority, then retired in 2012, when Katz was elevated to mayor.
Except for Trustee Lou Allstadt, who sought both Republican and Democratic nominations when he ran in 2013, the Village Board has remained in Democratic hands ever since.
Because of neighbors’ rancor in recent months – over a proposed apartment house backing up to Pine Boulevard, flying the Pride Flag on the community flagpole, the installation of blinking traffic signs, a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskins Robbins outlet and, most recently, provisions for dormitories in a revised zoning code – Republicans may see an opportunity.
In an interview, Mayor Tillapaugh said she’s running to see a range of downtown and infrastructure improvements come to fruition, ranging from the $5 million in Doubleday Field renovations to upgrades to the water-treatment plant.
A redo of Pioneer Park, which the mayor championed, is “going to look fabulous,” she said.
While there has been some citizen unrest, Tillapaugh said the Village Board has sought to be accommodating. For instance, the dormitory provision was removed after the public objected at an Oct. 28 public hearing, she said.
“We had a public hearing,” she said, “and the purpose of the public hearing was to listen to the public. It doesn’t mean you are always going to change things totally to make a group of people happy.”
However, she said, the trustees did adjust the proposed code in this case, and scheduled another public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, their next regular meeting.
“I didn’t close the public hearing until everyone had a chance to speak,” she added. The discussion went on for 45 minutes.
Asked if the other incumbents plan to run again, she said, “I assume Mac is,” a reference to Benton. “And hopefully, Joe too.”
For his part, Benton said, “I’m not prepared to make an announcement at this time.” Membrino, who was out of town, called to say he does intend to run, and would be interested in being interviewed further on his return.
Membrino was appointed to serve out Tillapaugh’s trustee term when she was elected mayor in March 2018, when Benton ran unopposed to serve the rest of Allstadt’s term after that trustee resigned.
While town elections are administered by the county Board of Elections, village elections are overseen by Village Administrator Teri Barown.
Each party must hold caucuses to nominate candidates between Jan. 21 and Jan. 28.
Independents may also run for mayor or trustee, and must submit petitions with a minimum of 50 signatures between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11.
Editor’s Note: Here is the text of the flag policy approved by the Cooperstown village trustees on Aug. 26, when the decision to fly the Pride Flag from the flagpole at Main and Pioneer was also affirmed. Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh advised the trustees can approve flying any flag they wish; but if they then reject a request to say, fly the Stars & Bars, that decision would not be defensible in New York State courts.
►Section 1: The Village of Cooperstown hereby finds, determines and declares as follows:
A. On July 22, 2019, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Cooperstown directed that the Pride, or Rainbow, Flag be displayed on the flagpole at Pioneer and Main Streets annually throughout the month of June to commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
B. It is desirable that a flag policy regarding the display of commemorative flags be incorporated with a general policy regarding the ongoing display of federal and state flags, as well as the POW-MIA Flag, at Village facilities, including provisions for displaying flags at half-staff.
C. The Village’s flagpoles are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public, but rather for the display of federal and state flags, the POW-MIA flag, and any commemorative flag as may be authorized by the Board of Trustees as an expression of the Village’s official sentiments.
►Section 2: Purpose.
This policy provides procedural guidance for (1) the display of the Flag of the United States and the State of New York flag; (2) the display of the POW-MIA flag; and (3) the display of commemorative flags at Village facilities. ►Section 3: Responsibility for Policy.
The Village Administrator or his or her designee shall be responsible for ensuring the proper execution of this policy at all Village facilities. ►Section 4: Procedures.
Flags are to be displayed in conformance with Federal and State statutes, including Title 4 Chapter 1 of the United States Code. Additionally, the standards below shall be followed regarding the display of flags. ►Section 5: POW-MIA Flag.
(a) The POW-MIA Flag is a nationally recognized flag, created in 1971 and recognized by an act of Congress through the adoption of U.S. Public Law 101-355, to represent concern of individuals who are identified as prisoners of war or missing in action. The POW-MIA Flag has become a symbol of commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting for those in the future who may become prisoners of war, missing in action, or otherwise unaccounted for as a result of hostile action.
(b) The POW-MIA flag shall be displayed on the flagpole at Main and Pioneer Streets during the month of November. ►Section 6: Commemorative Flags.
(a) Commemorative flags may be displayed as an expression of the Village’s official sentiments. Consistent with the Village’s vision, mission and guiding principles, it is expected that
these flags incorporate themes
of diversity, equity, social justice and inclusion.
(b) The Village’s flagpoles are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public. The Village will not display a commemorative flag based on a request from a third party, nor will the Village
use its flagpoles to sponsor the expression of a third party.
(c) Commemorative flags shall be displayed only by adoption of a resolution of the Board of Trustees.
(d) Commemorative flags shall not show religious preference or encourage a specific vote in a particular election.
(e) Commemorative flags shall be displayed for a period of time that is reasonable or customary for the subject that is to be commemorated, but no longer than 45 continuous days.
(f) Commemorative flags may be displayed on the flagpole at Main and Pioneer Streets and/or at other Village facilities as designated by the Board of Trustees.
(g) A commemorative flag may be donated by a third party after adoption of a resolution by the Board of Trustees for its display. ►Section 7: Flying Flags at Half-Staff.
(a) The Flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff in response to Presidential orders or proclamations, and instructions from the New York State Governor.
(b) When the Flag of the United States is flown at half-staff, other flags hung on the same flagpole may be relocated or removed from Village facilities in order to ensure public safety and to conform with Federal and State statues.
COOPERSTOWN – A month after voting unanimously to fly the Pride Flag on the flagpole next June, village trustees once again debated and, in the end, affirmed their decision.
“I gave every member of this board every opportunity to table this motion,” said Trustee MacGuire Benton, who introduced the resolution at the board’s July meeting. “For any vote you can have a discussion. We don’t need a unique, complex way to vote on flags.”
The debates started when the board’s “Adhoc Committee on Vexillology,” chaired by Benton, introduced a policy intended to give the Board guidance and clarity when taking up future proposals to fly flags. But the committee’s resolution on “the Display of Flags at Village Facilities” had the opposite effect.
Editor’s Note: This was reprinted from the current edition of The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, available at local newsstands.
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – As suggestions expand to hanging banners beyond the Pride Flag on the village’s flagpole, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is asking Trustee MacGuire Benton to form a committee with two other trustees to develop a policy for all such requests.
“We need a policy, that’s exactly right,” said the mayor, after Benton, in response to last week’s article, said his intent – and, he believes, the Village Board’s vote at its July 22 meeting – specified the Pride Flag would hang next June on the Main and Pioneer flagpole, not on Village Hall.